So, can we talk about how tricky it can be finding post-worthy anniversaries for specific dates on Throwbacks like these? I tried looking back through and finding cool stuff that’s happened or dropped on June 21, and…couldn’t find much of anything I felt like writing about. Damn you, history.
BUT…break outside the strict adherence to post-date alignment, and suddenly, things got easier. After shifting the search parameters to include “+/- a day or two,” I came almost immediately upon two death metal classics: Death‘s Individual Thought Patterns, which turns 25 tomorrow; and Gorguts‘ Obscura, which crosses 20 on Saturday. THROWBACK TOPIC DECIDED.
Individual Thought Patterns wasn’t the first album to lean into Death’s progressive and technical sides (that’d be Human) or the best one to do so (that’d be… shit, get back to me in a week), but it’s still worthy of celebration.
For starters, it boasts probably the most complete lineup of musicians on any Death album — supporting Chuck, we’ve got none other than Andy LaRocque (guitar), Steve DiGiorgio (bass) and Gene Hoglan (drums); perhaps you’ve heard of them? — and it’s the only one to do so. (LaRocque and Hoglan only joined after Human, and both LaRocque and DiGiorgio would depart after Patterns.) It’s a collection of talent that, somehow, manages to sound even better in practice than in theory.
But the songs themselves are no slouches, either. Opener “Overactive Imagination” is a three-and-a-half-minute whirlwind, as exhilarating as it is chaotic. (What is “devastatingly so,” Alex?) Later, “Mentally Blind” slows things down and serves up one of LaRocque’s most memorable leads on the record. (Augmented by some terrific, eerie keyboard swells, no less. ATMOSPHERE, KIDS.) The big takeaway from Individual Thought Patterns? Just about everything here comes together so freaking tastefully. There’s aggression, there’s technical proficiency, there’s lyrical prowess, and it all gels into something just…instantly, perfectly listenable. (And re-listenable. And re-listenable again.)
Human always gets a ton of love. Symbolic gets a ton of love. The Sound of Perseverance gets a lot of love (including from us). All of those are deserved. But don’t sleep on Individual Thought Patterns. It fully earns its place among Death’s tech-era masterpieces.
In contrast, Obscura takes a little more time to really get into. As a landmark in technical death metal, it’s an even bigger achievement than Individual Thought Patterns. It’s a brutal, challenging and uncompromising album from start to finish. But goddamn, is it also a weird one.
Released five years after The Erosion of Sanity, Obscura represented a rebirth of sorts for Luc Lemay. Gorguts had been dropped by Roadrunner Records as death metal’s commercial popularity waned, and compiled a completely new lineup of supporting musicians behind Lemay.
But the new era was most evident sonically. Sure, Gorguts had explored its technical side on Erosion, but… not like this. Obscura isn’t the same ballpark, or even the same sport; if its predecessor was baseball, then this thing is futuristic robot cricket. I’m hard-pressed to think of a wider, more jarring sonic leap between albums in the death metal genre. (Atheist’s jump from Piece of Time to Unquestionable Presence comes to mind, but even that, I don’t think, is anywhere near this level.)
And while I’d never argue that these are Gorguts’ most listenable songs, they are some of their most impressive. The way that virtually every part can sound so dissonant — almost, but not quite, to the point of sounding messy at times — yet still totally crush your soul when taken as a whole, is truly remarkable. Put simply, this thing took Luc Lemay to a different universe. It also laid the foundations for countless other bands to come: Pyrrhon, Ulcerate, Artificial Brain… hell, Steffen Kummerer even named his band after the album. So, love it or not, there’s no denying the importance of Obscura.
Happy anniversaries to both of these albums. Give ’em a listen this weekend. Or don’t, and be judged for it. Your call.
Keep it heavy,